Don’t envy the folks working in BMW’s M division. More so than any other keystone performance brand, they’re burdened with the Sisyphean task of creating user-friendly performance sedans/coupes (and sometimes SUVs) that their customers expect to serve as the standard-bearers in hotly contested segments.
If BMW didn’t invent the sport saloon, it perfected it with almost three decades of uninterrupted M3/M5 goodness. From the 1980s through the late 2000s, M’s reputation was ironclad, even with mounting rivalry from both fellow Germans and rogue offerings from the U.S. According to some loyalists, it wasn’t until the previous-generation M5 launched that cracks began to appear in M’s long-established foundation.
Maybe it was an internal shift in pursued demographics, or maybe BMW just lost the plot somewhere along the way, but according to magazines, blogs, social media, and forum tantrums, there was no denying it—the new batch of M cars launched post-2013 didn’t strike loyalists as being as sharp or engaging as the models of yore. With so many other options on the market, buying a new M product was, to some, akin to flambéing a stack of cash, except to maybe the most hardcore BMW enthusiasts.
If the F10 M5 spelled doom, today’s M2 and M5 are salvation. The M2 is proof-positive there’s still some magic to be spun from the halls that gave us The Ultimate Driving Machine, and the new M5 rights all the wrongs unleashed by its predecessor.
Caught in the middle of this crosstalk is the present M3/M4. Initially well-received when launched for the 2015 model year, it was collectively kicked to the curb with the M2’s debut, with reviewers citing how much better the smallest member of the family is to drive when compared with big brother. Now, the M4 is too capable, too fast, too digital, they say. Why can’t it be like the affable M2?
Over the course of a week, I drove a 2018 BMW M4 with the DCT dual-clutch transmission from shore to mountains in Los Angeles, playing chauffeur for a visiting buddy. Some 500-odd miles later, I’m not convinced it’s the numb, over-boosted meathead big brother some people make it out to be.
It’s still a sharp looking coupe. Like the Mercedes-AMG C63 and Alfa Romeo Giulia QV, it isn’t outwardly aggressive—instead, it smolders. It’s “only” an M4, but we captured our fair share of glances and craned necks, even in ultra-bougie areas. Granted, this could be entirely attributed to the astringent yellow-ish, gold-ish, green-ish Austin Yellow paint.
It looked even better thanks to the optional Competition Package, a $4,750 extra that darkens the exterior with gloss black “Shadowline” trim elements, including exhaust tips, badges, and kidney grille. You also get some nifty M-stripes added to the seatbelts, and some comfy sport seats.
The Competition Package also adds oodles of performance knickknacks. The 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline-six jumps from 425 hp to 444 hp, managed by a reprogrammed active rear diff and stability control. The suspension is now adaptive, with upgraded springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars, now incorporating three distinct levels of harshness: Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus.
Angeles Crest Highway was the first crucible. This mountainous route is full of wide sweepers, best approached in something with a large footprint and enough power to muscle through the elevation changes. The M3/M4 was the first M to make the jump to electrically boosted steering, and it’s one of the less tactile of such systems available on the market. In Comfort, steering is heavy; in Sport Plus, it’s uncomfortable. Even for a performance-obsessed enthusiast, the excessively thick steering wheel and weighted Sport Plus setting is too much, inducing minor hand cramps. For ripping over Angeles Crest, Sport is more than adequate.
After selecting Sport and massaging my hands for a bit, everything else was peachy. It’s not a small car, but there’s tons of grip from the staggered Michelin Pilot Super Sports (265 front, 285 rear), and the uprated suspension setup is well-suited for fast sweepers. After turn-in and once the car’s mass settles, there are no surprises—just be careful with the throttle, and watch your brakes.
In what might have been an overreaction in the opposite direction, the 3.0-liter puts down an impressive 406 lb-ft of torque, a stonkin’ 111 lb-ft more than the bygone V-8-powered E90 M3. It’s all available from 2,350 rpm, meaning those Michelins are overworked, underpaid, and generally disillusioned with their existence. Get greedy mid-corner, and the stability control warning light will glower at you from the dash while the rear end shimmies.
Even in a straight line, good luck getting a clean launch or rolling dig with all that torque. It squirms and hops anywhere past the half-throttle mark, and doesn’t settle down until you’re north of 60 mph. Then, hold on to that thick wheel, because it’s faster than you think. Thanks to those traction issues, the M4 pulls like riptide once at speed, not slowing down until well beyond the point of getting off with a warning.
Our tester was fitted with the $8,150 carbon-ceramic brake package. Even if only for canyon sprints, these are worth the gut-wrenching sticker price. With all that turbocharged gumption, aggressive stability- and traction-control systems softened the brake pedal before we were even halfway up the mountain, though the stopping power wasn’t affected to any worrying degree.
From Angeles Crest, we charged over to Glendora Mountain Road, an incredible stretch flanked by low stone walls on some sections that present a distinctly Sicilian experience. This is one of the more technical routes in SoCal, serving as a tighter, sinewy counterpart to Angeles Crest.
The ceramics were semi-slagged on the wide open range of ACH, so we switched off stability and traction to conserve as much stopping power as possible. On Glendora, the M4 shined. There’s more grip and cornering speed than the M2, and it’s more than happy to chug in third or fourth gear midrange to keep the rear settled.
Then, without any rest or cool down, the route spat us back onto L.A.’s twisting highway system. We bisected the entirety of Los Angeles on our way to a late lunch, navigating through roadways already choked with traffic. With the powertrain, steering, and suspension back to Comfort, it settled into an easy cruise only disrupted by the occasional balky shift from the DCT. Inside, we had plenty of shoulder and legroom to stretch out, and the ride was pliant enough not to powder our bones through rough inner-city patches.
Contrary to what so many have said, this is a well-rounded car. The 2018 BMW M4 is more than capable as a sports coupe, and proved itself to be an impressive candidate for a daily driver. Also, for those obsessed with three-pedals, it remains the only member of the segment to still offer a manual transmission. Though, here’s some fair warning: If you can, wait for the next gen. If the new M5 is anything to go by, the next M3/M4 should silence any BMW alarmists.
2019 BMW M4 Competition Specifications
|PRICE (as tested)||$87,000 (as tested)|
|ENGINE||3.0L DOHC 24-valve twin-turbocharged I-6/444 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 406 lb-ft @ 2,350 – 5,500 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||Six-speed manual transmission; seven-speed dual-clutch transmission|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||17/23 mpg city/hwy|
|L x W x H||184.5 x 73.6 x 54.8 in|
|WEIGHT||3,685 lb (automatic)|
|0-60 MPH||3.8 secs|
|TOP SPEED||155 mph|